Thanking the People Who Molded and Shaped Us

We all should focus some time on the people who made us what we are. Let me urge you to say 'thank you' a lot as you pass through this life.

Of course, my response to his gesture was totally inappropriate. As a matter of fact it typified the type of behavior he was trying to extinguish. Just after he left the room, I went racing out of the backdoor of the lunch room, ran across the parking lot and tossed that statue as far as I could. I then marched back into the lunch room and finished my lunch. Just before football practice that afternoon, he called me into his office and read me the riot act. He told me why he had done what he did and sent me out into the street looking for that statue. The fact that I can recall this story nearly 50 years later speaks to the depth of my admiration for that feisty, little man who retired to Florida not long after I left.

With these thoughts in mind, I made sure that I attended his funeral a number of years ago. It was like a trip down memory lane. Generations of coaches and players gathered to pay our respects. Guess what? I still have that ugly, little rascal perched on the chest of drawers in my bedroom. When I am tempted to blow up, I fondle that little piece of history and say thank you to a good man.

Let me close this visit with you by sharing the story of the late Frank Reheis, my first Battalion Chief when I joined the Newark Fire Department (NFD). He was hired off the 1943 entrance list, but had entered the U.S. Army to serve in Europe during World War Two. It was my good fortune to first meet Chief Reheis when I was an auxiliary fireman with the good, old NFD. I served as an auxiliary with Truck Company #11, which shared quarters with Engine Company #11.

He was an extremely popular and supportive individual. The men all admired and respected him for his fair and even-handed treatment of the troops. During the time I served as an auxiliary fireman in Newark, I also served as a paid fireman with the Rahway Fire Department. As you might expect, auxiliary firemen had a very limited role according to the departmental regulations. However, once the guys found out I was a paid guy in Rahway, things changed and got much better. I sometimes think that Chief Reheis counted me as one of the guys when I rode on the truck.

It is important to note that he considered all of the members of the First Battalion to be his guys. He did not let people screw with his guys. He tried very hard to keep the powers-that-be away from us. Many were the times when he took a blast from the higher ups and then stopped by to share a cup of coffee with us. I can still remember him setting his white hat on the table mopping his brow with a handkerchief as he bemoaned the fact that the people in headquarters simply did not understand what it was like out there in the field. That was a lesson I learned and used during my time as a chief in the city.

It is also my fervent belief that it was Chief Reheis who gave me my shot at getting on the job in Newark. I can recall one morning in the spring of 1973. I was riding with Engine 11 by now and was spending time in Newark between my night shifts in Rahway. The man on house watch duty saw the chief's rig arrive in front of quarters and as was the case in those days, he hit the house bell to call us all to the watch room.

When the chief was finishing signing the company journals and speaking with us as a group, he called me aside and said that it was fortunate indeed that I was in Newark on that particular day. He told me he had something for me and then pulled out an employment application for the fire department. He told me that he had just picked up the applications at fire headquarters and told me to fill mine out right away. Once I did, he said something I will never forget; "…this is one competition where the earliest postmark counts."

With that he and his driver took me over to the Roseville branch of the U.S. Post Office and made sure that I sent out the application certified with return-receipt requested. Perhaps it was he who planted the seeds about not trusting government, but that is a story for another day. My application went in the same day the applications were sent out.

When I was on the verge of graduating from the fire training center, It was Chief Reheis who went to the fire chief, Joe Redden, and asked for him to assign me to Engine Company #11. One of the guys had put in for a transfer and the chief wanted me to replace the outgoing guy. Chief Reheis did the exact same thing about three months later when my brother Bob, who had also been an auxiliary, graduated from the training center. Both Bob and I benefited from the lessons taught to us by Chief Reheis. I am firmly convinced that both of us brought elements of his style to our efforts as battalion commanders. Let me now share some of the important lessons I learned from Chief Reheis: